Drive to make a difference

This article is part of a series written by the Shelburne Social Services Committee to provide information to Shelburne residents on local social services issues.

By David Cranmer,
Shelburne Social Services Committee Chair
Vermont is a rural state with a decentralized transportation system. Public funding for human services transportation, including para-transit for seniors and persons with disabilities, has remained stagnant for the past several years despite an increase in ridership and high costs for contracted vehicles. The demand for rides will continue to grow as Vermont’s proportion of people aged 65 and older rises to an estimated 24 percent of the population by 2030.
Neighbor Rides is a strategic initiative of United Way of Chittenden County and community partners that utilizes volunteer drivers to help meet the transportation needs of seniors and persons with disabilities.
Neighbor Rides brings people and places together. Volunteers use their personal vehicle to transport seniors and persons with disabilities to life-sustaining and life-enriching activities throughout Chittenden County.
Through a survey of Chittenden County seniors, University of Vermont (UVM) medical students found that limited access to transportation leads to missed healthcare appointments and social isolation. Among surveyed seniors who have limited or no access to a personal vehicle, 69 percent delay medical appointments and over 50 percent have difficulty visiting loved ones.
Lisa Newton of Shelburne has been a volunteer driver since September. “I attended a United Way presentation on the program and said, I can do that!” Newton said the enrollment process was simple…United Way referred her to Special Services Transportation Authority (SSTA), where she completed some forms.  There is no driving test. Newton lets SSTA know her availability and they schedule rides for her on a weekly basis. A typical ride is from someone’s home to a medical appointment and return.
“You meet a lot of people you would have never met and go to a lot of places you would not have gone,” said Newton. She emphasized the need for such a program. “This is a real service for seniors who have been very independent all their lives and now can no longer drive.”
Volunteering will not affect your insurance rates, but it will change your life. As a Neighbor Rides volunteer, you make new friends, help your neighbors, have a flexible schedule, can receive mileage reimbursement, and contribute to a healthier Chittenden County. To start driving, call the United Way at 861-7833.
The Shelburne Social Services Committee meets on the 4th Wednesday of the month at 7pm at the Town Office.